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Sacramento County Executive Ann Edwards says public service is ‘in my bones’

Ann Edwards is the first woman to hold the position of Sacramento County executive. (Sacramento State/Hrach Avetisyan)

Ann Edwards used to lie in bed awake at night, imagining herself walking across the graduation stage at Sacramento State.

“I even had ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ the tune, in my head,” said Edwards ’91 (Social Work), MS ’93 (Counseling), who at the time was a single mother working in customer service at FedEx. “I mean, I really just visualized it happening, and I didn’t do it thinking it was going to get me there. It’s just how badly I wanted the education.

“It’s almost like I was, without knowing it, doing an affirmation about getting where I wanted to be.”

She eventually got there, enrolling at Sac State, switching to part-time work, and bringing her daughter to classes when she couldn’t arrange child care.

Four years later, her nighttime affirmation became a reality when she walked across the Commencement stage to receive her bachelor’s degree.

When Ann Edwards graduated with her master’s in Counseling, her father, then the chair of Teacher Education, conferred the degree. (Photo courtesy Ann Edwards)

Edwards now is county executive, the first woman to hold that position in Sacramento County, overseeing all departments and operations. Sacramento State, she said, is where she learned many of the skills that have helped her become successful.

She chose Sac State for three reasons: It was close to home, and therefore convenient for a single mother working part-time; it was a “teaching school,” where she knew she would get individualized attention from professors; and her father was on the faculty, lending the campus an air of familiarity.

Edwards initially enrolled as a Communication Studies major, but when her younger sister entered rehab to deal with an alcohol addiction, the social workers who supported the family led her to switch.

“It just inspired me to help people that were struggling as well,” she said.

After graduating with her bachelor’s in Social Work, she returned to the University to earn her master’s degree in Counseling. She also is a licensed marriage and family therapist.

Edwards is responsible for all staff and operations for Sacramento County, a jurisdiction of 1.5 million people. She said Sac State taught her critical thinking skills she uses daily on behalf of her work. She also appreciated that faculty taught all of her classes, and were flexible and understanding if she needed to bring her daughter to class with her.

Studying social work and counseling, she added, gave her a “tremendous understanding about human behavior.

“I use my skills all the time, helping staff do a better job, coaching staff, and leading the organization,” Edwards said. “I feel like the both of those degrees helped me enormously in dealing with people, both inside the county and outside the county.”

The biggest piece of her job, she said, is developing and presenting the annual budget.

Sacramento County itself is unique, spanning from the Sacramento River to the Sierra foothills, with roughly a third of its residents living outside an incorporated city such as Sacramento or Rancho Cordova. That means the county is local government for a half million people.

Acknowledging that, Edwards said one of her primary goals is “to lead with care and compassion.”

“Yes, I oversee departments and agencies and build the budget, but I really think the core of my responsibility is to serve the community and the employees of Sacramento County so that interactions with each other and with the community are positive and constructive and beneficial,” she said.

Having grown up and still residing in Sacramento County’s Carmichael neighborhood, Edwards is part of that community.

Ann Edwards cites her studies in Social Work and Counseling as having helped her gain  “tremendous understanding about human behavior.” (Sacramento State/Hrach Avetisyan)

“The County of Sacramento picks up my garbage. When people complain about potholes, I drive over the same roads that have the same potholes,” she said. “So I understand what residents of unincorporated county are experiencing.”

Public service, Edwards said, is “in my bones.” In addition to her father being Sac State faculty, her mother taught elementary school in the San Juan Unified School District. Her father once told her, “Whatever you do, do something that matters.” Her first job was working for a community-based organization in San Joaquin County.

“Great training, great job, but it didn’t feel right being in another community,” said Edwards, who took the first opportunity to return to her hometown. Before becoming acting county executive in December 2020 and subsequently being named to the permanent position in September, she spent more than two decades in Sacramento County in multiple departments.

Family support, including from both her parents, was critical to turning her dream of a college degree into reality. And when she walked across the stage to receive her master’s, it came with an added special touch: Her father, as the chair of Teacher Education, conferred her degree at Commencement while her daughter looked on.

“That was an incredibly special moment, and my daughter was there to see me walk both times, which was really incredible as well,” Edwards said.

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About Jonathan Morales

Jonathan Morales joined the Sac State communications team in 2017 as a writer and editor. He previously worked at San Francisco State University and as a newspaper reporter and editor. He enjoys local beer, Bay Area sports teams, and spending time outdoors with his family and dog.

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